by Meghna MehtaFeb 13, 2020
The Bandra Collective is a collaborative of six architects who reside in Bandra, the western suburb of Mumbai in India, to create discussion-to-action effects while wanting to not be named. The six architecture and design firms brainstorm, design and deliver by putting in their efforts to improve the urban environment of their home-suburb Bandra, working pro-bono meeting every 10 days to discuss agendas and actually ‘do’ rather than merely ‘talk’. These enthusiastic firms include the Busride Design, Samir D’monte Architects, Sameep Padora & Associates, Urban Studio, Abraham John Architects, and Architecture Brio. Having taken inspiration from countries with an active street culture such as India’s, their aim is to make Bandra safer and more pedestrian-friendly.
The Bandra Collective in collaboration with, and having achieved confidence of the local authorities, has previously been responsible for the installation of new road signages and proposing the redesign of 28 parks in Bandra, with expanded sports facilities and resting spots. Their proposal for the refurbishment of Carter Road park is making some progress and further expansion is underway.
In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, it was important that the current situation and its impact on people’s movement in our urban environments be discussed by the members of the Bandra Collective. Now the collaborative has proposed a series of short-term post-lockdown initiatives to focus on the immediate spatial futures.
Here, STIR discusses with the Bandra Collective their plans for Bandra and the immediate future while we learn to live with the coronavirus.
Meghna Mehta (MM): While it was important to address the post-lockdown scenario, with people resuming their routines, what do you think would be our role in the new normal as architects?
Bandra Collective (BC): The causes and subsequent effects of the COVID-19 pandemic has already been and will be the subject of many discussions, reports and research projects in the future to come. These undoubtedly need to fuel thinking about the ways we inhabit our world, the fragility of our lives and its implications on socio-economic, political, cultural, human equity and environmental networks. This kind of thinking undeniably needs to be the long game but there is a need to urgently consider the short term as well.
For many of us who are experiencing the lockdown and practicing social distancing, our worlds have shrunk to the scale of our immediate environments, namely the rooms we inhabit (for those of us fortunate enough to have a home) and to the spaces from where we buy our daily essentials. There is no mistaking the fact that the COVID-19 pandemic and the measures to mitigate its spread have restructured our engagement with our spatial environments. However, the easing of these measures is imminent and it is critical for us to focus on the immediate spatial futures post the lockdown and the strategies that will be needed to use public spaces once more.
MM: What actions does the collaborative wish to take?
BC: The spatial implications of COVID-19 have created the need for a new framework for the collective use of public spaces and buildings. This new framework will need to manifest as guidelines implied through formal interventions to ensure social distancing while collective usage of space.
We believe design interventions including social distancing furniture post-lockdown would be needed within but not limited to: vegetable markets; commercial streets; promenades; pavements on arterial, collector and local roads; parks; train station; bus stands and bus stops; public buildings; reuse redundant building; parking areas; hawking zones, and train and bus carriages.
MM: How did the collaborative evolve its methods and processes to discuss, design and implement during this time?
BC: Nothing has changed and everything has changed for the Bandra Collective with respect to the situation during the pandemic. These efforts will keep us active and relevant through the lockdown and the soon to follow post-pandemic periods.
The most important question that was raised - what future do we conceive once we have been through a pandemic like this? Together, we are currently working on urgent retrofits for public spaces (markets, parks, promenades, institutions) in Bandra, if successful can be deployed at a larger scale in other affected places.
MM: Can you share some specific features of the proposed urban solutions?
BC: We have designed six modules keeping in mind the health guidelines and social distancing norms in the urban areas.
1. Distancing Circles are an effective way to not only keep people apart in public spaces, but also show them how to move.
2. The Partition and Sanitation station creates divisions between shops and vendors while providing the necessary water supply.
3. The Sanitation Station urges people to wash their hands while on the move.
4. The Mobile Cart is a solution for fruit and vegetable vendors to keep a safe distance and exchange money through a window.
5. Planters have been proposed to distance people in public spaces, parks and promenades.
6. Digital Optimisation leverages the benefits of technology for maintaining health and safety in urban spaces by providing targeted live feed and people counts.
MM: Immediate action during these times would be the key, right?
BC: Yes, there is a sense of urgency that is very important in this situation. No matter what the involvement of the government bodies is, design processes always work on accelerated timelines due to the varied scenarios that relate to Bhumi Pujan dates that need to be followed or the required funds. Setting up a market for post-pandemic conditions requires all hands on deck. And it will be executed in three days’ time if all the stars align. There were similar timelines for the Vikhroli street re-design project and phases of the Carter Road promenade design.
Hence, it is fair to say there is an all-round urgency and frenzied time that is keeping us going during these abnormal times. What we associate with regular paced projects, commercial, client driven, corporate, will in a month or two completely dry up at the studio.
MM: How do you think the proposals for post-COVID measures can be further replicated and implemented on small and large scales?
BC: The proposals and solutions are highly conducive to small teams. With the lockdown affecting usual business and firms looking to downsize to ensure sustenance through the long period ahead, our engagements require slim teams. It’s the part of practice that can survive with limited resources at the studios and the paucity of walk-in patrons.
MM: We have seen some of the work of the collective see light of the day. Do you believe people of Bandra will soon be using these measures for social distancing?
BC: We are believers of unconditional optimism and have an acute sense of realisation. With the public nature of the Bandra Collective, we are constantly looking to upgrade the environment. Engaged with ideas of public spaces, in the public realm, the files are all open source.